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The circular ruins – Jorge Luis Borges

The circular ruins is a story written by the Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges. It was first published in December 1940, in a literary magazine “Sur”. Then, the following year, in 1941 it was included in the collection of The Garden of Bifurcating Paths, which three years later was part of Ficciones.

This story is about a gray man who has no name, trying to create a new man through his dreams. Among the things that the story deals with are the return of infinity, the process of literary creation and the legend of the Golem.


Summary and Synopsis

He begins by counting that a man arrives at the ruins of an ancient temple with a circular shape. A man with a single mission: to create a new man through his dreams and then bring him to reality. At the beginning, this man dreams that he is in the center of a theater full of students to whom he teaches.

He then chooses a student, after giving him some private lessons, who is impressed and amazed at the young student’s extraordinary abilities. However, one day the man wakes up and no matter how hard he tries for many nights he cannot fall asleep. He realizes that his first attempt has not worked and tries to find another method of work.

After having a good rest and exhaustively studying many rites of adoration and purification towards the gods, this man falls asleep and dreams of a heart. After many nights and days, even years pass, in which the man gradually creates his son, taking great care of the details.

When the young man is finally complete, however, he does not have the ability to speak or to sit up: all he does is dream. So the man pleads for his help to the God of Fire so that he gives life to his son and makes him conscious. So the young boy wakes up like a real man, of flesh and blood, but is sent to another temple.

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Only the man who dreams and the god of Fire know that the young son is a creation, a dream man, that he is not a real person as such. As time goes by, the dreamer finds out through other people he heard that they said that there was a man in another temple who had the ability to walk on fire.

The man who they are talking about is his son, so he worries that he will realize that it is not real if not a projection created in dreams.

Suddenly, a huge fire approaches the temple where the man who dreamed was, and solemnly accepts that the moment of his death has come and then decides to walk on the fire. The dreamer accepts and understands at that moment that he is also a projection, that is, a dream of another man.

Genre: Fiction tale

A critic, called Ana María Barrenechea, tells us that Borges often writes stories with a certain metatextual sense, that he creates stories but that they often take the form of an essay, which are generally a great mixture of colorful comments from famous critics and authors and books. invented; and it is these inventions that inspire the author Borges.


  • The dreamer: This is the main character and protagonist of the story, since it all starts with him. He is described as “the stranger” or “the gray man”. He arrives at the ruins full of wounds, but seems to feel no pain from them. The next day he arrives, his wounds have healed and he is not surprised. Which gives us a glimpse that the dreamer is not an ordinary man. What is affirmed when he reveals that he can dominate his dreams at will and that he can create a new being through his dreams. At the end when he can walk through the fire, we discover that it is also a projection.
  • The God of Fire: This character is a nod to a theory of Heraclitus, where he says that fire is the origin of everything. And the circular enclosure where the whole story is located, is described as a place that at one time had the color of fire and that later acquired the color of ashes. This was a temple dedicated to the fire god, which was desecrated by men, so the fire god no longer wanted to receive honors from them.
  • The dreamer: he is the son that the dreamer has perfected through the years and who manages to bring to life with the help of the God of Fire, since before he could only dream and could not speak or do anything else. At the beginning, he comes out as the young student taught by the dreamer, who has the characteristics of being a taciturn, sallow, wayward boy, which were similar to those of the dreamer.
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At the end of the story, we are introduced to creation as an eternal cycle of thoughts of people dreaming of each other, exercising to sleep in the arts of creative fire and thus sending the new man to repeat the process.

What the story wants us to understand is that from the author’s point of view, creation is not aware of its origin, but until it reaches an end where it is repeated, where it finds itself in a paradox with fire: which is a creative and destructive force at the same time.

With this, the concept that illusion and reality are held together and separated by a thin line called dreams is added. People looking to create things in their dreams think that these creations are more real than their common dreams, therefore, as Borges creates a metatext, they create a meta-dream. That is, a dream about the dream, in a text about the text.

Fire, in this case, gets a symbolic value as matter that activates the will: a dreamer gets something better than reality from the dream but without reality there would be no material for the dream.